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What I Watched Last Night

If it's Monday night, it must mean we're in store for another dose of the incredibly bad habits of the Irish. And yowza, did we get a good dose of it last night with FX Network's premiere of The Riches, which I watched instead of The Black Donnelleys.

I'm not sure whether guys like Robert Young and Michael Landon ever envisioned a nuclear family that travels around the Deep South in a Winnebago, crashing wedding receptions and high school reunions to pick the pockets and gift tables of the citizenry. But they'd probably appreciate that there's actual love and closeness within this family despite the absence of legal scruples.

If you happen to be well-read - or just good at trivia - you might know that The Riches drinks deeply from the well that is the real-life, highly secretive band of folk known as the Travellers, a group of nomadic people originally from Ireland who refer to themselves as Pavee and are often mistaken as representatives of a certain major casualty and personal insurance company. These folks differ significantly from Gypsies, an actual ethnic group mainly from eastern Europe who have more horse-drawn wagons and inspired a Top 40 song by Cher.

Estimated to number somewhere around 10,000 in the United States, the Travellers spend the warm months living by their wits doing - reports say - highly-respected yet difficult itinerant work, such as pulling off pigeon drops, half-completing substandard driveway and home improvement work, and inspecting the basements of the elderly so they can rifle the purses of unsuspecting grannies. During the colder months, Travellers north of the Mason-Dixon Line come together in large camp communities in The South, where they live, eat, drink, further the cause of illiteracy, and arrange marriages between assorted young 'uns to strengthen the blood and financial lines of the various clans.

Last night's premiere of The Riches introduced us to the wandering Molloy family. The dad, Wayne Molloy (Eddie Izzard), is having a midlife existentialist crisis because - and it's not exactly clear how -- he has managed to collect more education than most Travellers. Otherwise how would he be capable of a midlife existentialist crisis?

Q: How many existentialists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Orange.

See what I mean? I'm somewhere around midlife, so comparatively, I'm just be happy that my worst daily crisis involves nothing more than having to choose between Subway and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Given his clear disdain toward his kin and their camplike surroundings because they don't include Winnebago home schooling in the liberal arts or a home economics curriculum beyond how to bake something known as preacher cookies, Wayne seems to have pretty much had his fill of the whole business.

Wife and mom Dahlia Malloy (Minnie Driver, after spending half her fortune locating a coach able to get her to trade a heavy Brit accent for a heavy redneck one), is freshly paroled from a two-year stint in Deep South prison for some unstated offense that, by rights, Wayne should have taken the rap for. I'm not very familiar with the penal system in Alabama, but it's apparently a place where cornrows are at the height of fashion for white chicks, inmates have free access to smack and hypodermic needles, and every parolee gets a bottle of methadone as a parting gift. So needless to say, the four somewhat-teenaged Malloy offspring have managed to develop some rather impressive grifter credentials while hanging out with dad waiting for mom to get out of the slammer.

Besides being an existentialist, Wayne's quite the armchair philosopher. Matter of fact, this outlook explains his notion why, if you can't grab The American Dream through more traditional means - such as formal education and steady employment - you can just steal it. He affectionately tells his boy after a brawl with his wife's cousin Duane (Todd Stashwick, proving that you can be from Chicago and play an amazingly convincing redneck): "Life's a river kid. You gotta go where it takes you."

For the Molloys, that river includes a rather nasty game of bumper-car Winnebagos in the middle of a two-lane road with another Traveller family, which results in the traffic death of BMW-driving lawyer Douglas Rich and his wife. The Riches just bought a McMansion in a gated Louisiana subdivision sight unseen off eBay, so the Molloys ditch the Riches and their Beemer in a roadside swamp, swipe their money, and use the keys to the McMansion to assume a new life as the Rich family because, well, not even the real estate agent who handled the sale ever met the Riches face to face.

However, the past has a funny habit of following you around like a bad penny, so the plot is thickened by the bad blood between Wayne and Duane, Wayne stealing a huge stack of cash from the safe of Dahlia's Uncle Earl, and the Duane-arranged marriage between Molloy daughter Di Di to to the apparently inbred son of redneck Irish tent community floozy Ginny Dannegan. Which leads to endearing little exchanges that went a lot like this:

Eddie (to Ginny): "Go and shit yourself. My daughter is a precious gem with a mind of her own. Your brother here is a chromosomal retard."
Brother: "I could do, like, real good thievery."
Eddie: "One-hundred and fifty years of sucking off America. What you have is a culture of nothing."
Ginny: "I got powers, asshole. I can mess you up."
Dahlia: "You heard my husband, Ginny. He told you go shit yourself."

The upcoming weeks of The Riches ought to shed some light on how well a junkie mom can keep house, how easily a con man can con the legal profession into believing he's actually a securities attorney, and whether four rather decent kids accustomed to living in a rathole Winnebago can fit in with neighborhood kids straight out of Clueless. In another words, worth watching.

*

A few hours later on Bravo's Being Bobby Brown, Bobby and Whitney continued their race to become the most famous couple to resort to selling their own blood to cover the utilities as they continue their brand of life in their rented, shabbily-apportioned Calumet City condo.

I dare anyone to watch this program and try to make a compelling argument against the thought that sometimes God actually does fuck up and wastes a perfectly good allocation of talent and good fortune on the entirely wrong people.

-

Read the What I Watched Last Night collection.



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Posted on March 13, 2007


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